Arsenal refuse to feel sorry for themselves on hangover-free afternoon against struggling Palace

Jason Soutar
Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka celebrates his goal

Arsenal showed no signs of a European hangover in their comfortable win against Crystal Palace – for whom relegation is proving to be a real possibility.


Arsenal could have gone into Sunday’s Premier League clash against managerless Crystal Palace feeling sorry for themselves after being knocked out of the Europa League by Sporting, especially after William Saliba and Takehiro Tomiyasu picked up injuries, but they were hangover-free and got the job done against the worst team in the top flight, on current form anyway.

The Eagles sacked Patrick Vieira on Friday in a move that some saw as bold, and others as sensible. They are without a win since December and have been pulled into a relegation battle that is proving to be fascinating…for the neutral anyway.

Both teams clearly looked to target the full-backs from the off at the Emirates. Crystal Palace would try and find Michael Olise frequently when in controlled possession and tried to release Wilfried Zaha in behind and in transition. Zaha came almighty close to giving the visitors a shock lead, but Aaron Ramsdale tipped the ball onto the post and was fortunate to see the ball ricochet off him for a corner, and not for the opening goal.

Oleksandr Zinchenko was dealing with Olise well, while Zaha continued to threaten and came very close to scoring in the 72nd minute. Despite not looking nervous after a poor result during the week – which would be understandable – Arsenal were once again close to going behind, but Odsonne Edouard could not hold his line, nor beat Ramsdale, after bursting through on goal.

Tyrick Mitchell was faced up against Bukayo Saka, Benjamin White and Martin Odegaard on a regular basis, while Gabriel Martinelli looked dangerous on the other flank. There were two game plans that revolved around doing damage in the wide areas. Clearly, Arsenal’s plan was executed with more success.

Arsenal went ahead courtesy of a Saka assist and a Martinelli goal. The former found the latter with a pass he may or may not have intended and the Brazilian did the rest, unpredictably shifting the ball onto his left foot and firing past the inexperienced Joe Whitworth. Incidentally, Saka’s assist was his tenth in the Premier League this season, meaning he is the first in the top tier to record double-figure goals and assists. There is a reason Arsenal fans call him ‘Starboy’.

The second goal went from left to right, with Saka scoring to make it 2-0 to the league leaders. In case you weren’t aware already, this kid is very special. Arsenal did some nice work down the left and Granit Xhaka’s cross went all the way through to Saka, who worked some magic with Benjamin White, who provided an assist for a chance the England winger had to convert.

If the result was in doubt going into the second 45 minutes, those doubts were destroyed less than ten minutes into the half. Another Leandro Trossard assist and another Xhaka goal. His second this week and the first he has scored this season without Gabriel Jesus on the pitch with him. The Swiss’ goal against Sporting was his first since the October draw at Southampton.

Crystal Palace were able to expose Arsenal’s current Achilles heel. They scored from a corner just after the hour-mark to give their fans some hope. This is a problem for Arsenal right now, when defending set-pieces was regarded as a strength not too long ago. There was a VAR check to see if the ball had been handballed before Jeffrey Schlupp scored, but not even that could save the Gunners’ blushes.

Palace scored, but Mikel Arteta instantly responded by bringing on Gabriel Jesus, which made the home crowd all chirpy again.

Not long after Zaha came very close to making it a nervy ending, Saka put the game beyond doubt with a wonderful finish, cementing himself as the player of the match. Kieran Tierney got an assist for the goal as well, which was nice to see.

A comfortable win three days after a gruelling 120 minutes in Europe is a sign of a good team. It is also a sign that Arsenal probably could have handled the Thursday-Sunday schedule between now and the end of the season, further proving that a Europa League triumph was within reach and that a major European trophy should not be taken for granted by anyone, least of all Arsenal, who haven’t claimed a continental win since 1994.

Crystal Palace, meanwhile, are in a spot of bother, to say the least. When will their first win of 2023 come? Who the hell will replace Patrick Vieira? These are questions not even Steve Parish will know the answer to. All we do know is that the international break has come at a good time for everyone at Selhurst Park.

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